Hazards of Heavy Metals

Today’s post is information-heavy but important when it comes to considering whether or not the environment that you and your families are living in is contributing to your health or degrading it. Our surrounds often become grey matter in the scheme of our daily lives but it should be a top priority.

Have you considered the heavy metals that surround us in our environment?

Or even the levels of heavy metals that contaminate the food we eat or the water we drink?

If you have, then you know just how high our exposure is to these toxic heavy metals and their detrimental effects on our health. Although heavy metal poisoning is rare, low-grade heavy metal toxicity is a major contributor to a variety of serious health issues. The main threats to human health include arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead, and aluminum. Even though humans have been using these metal for a long time since the 20th century our exposure has increased astronomically.



Arsenic is widely distributed and occurs in rock, soil, water, and air. There are two types; inorganic which is found most commonly in drinking water and organic (arsenobetaine) primarily found in seafood. It is most hazardous in its inorganic form (10). Smelting of non-ferrous metals and production of energy from fossil fuels are two major industrial processes that lead to arsenic contamination of air, water, and soil (3). In the general population exposure to arsenic is via contaminated food and water intake (3).
As inorganic arsenic is acutely toxic, increased intake may lead to serious complications of the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and central nervous systems, and may also lead to death (3). Populations exposed to arsenic in drinking water have an increased risk mortality due to lung, bladder, skin and kidney cancer (3). There has also be research that implicates low level chronic arsenic exposure and hypertension & CVD. Consumption of organic arsenic (seafood) is less hazardous, though huge intake of contaminated seafood may create similar health hazards (10).



Mercury is found in three different forms. Elemental (or metallic), inorganic which is the form people are exposed to when working in certain occupations and organic (methyl mercury) which is found in food. Methyl mercury is a bacteria that bioaccumulates in an organism. It has been used traditionally for a variety of things — in pre-historic cave paintings for the bright red colour; in ancient Greece it was used to cosmetically lighten a person’s skin; there is traditional evidence mercury was a cure for syphilis; and in the last 150 years amalgam fillings have been used in dentistry (3). Now that most dentistry practices have been changed so that amalgam fillings are no longer used, the most common exposure to mercury is via food, with the most common source being fish (3). Other sources include; Fish/seafood, Food crops cultivated with mercury-contaminated water, Meat from livestock fed mercury-contaminated feed, Water, Vaccines containing thiomersal, Old acrylic (latex) paint, Contact-lens solutions containing thiomersal, Fluorescent light bulbs, Skin-lightening creams, Mercury thermometers, Batteries, Antiques, Switches and relays in electrical goods, Pesticides, Fossil fuels, and Incinerators (16).
Side effects of mercury toxicity is dependent on exposure, acute toxic exposure can result in paresthesias (pins and needles) and numbness of the hands and feet, leading to coordination difficulties and auditory problems (6), respiratory problems. Prolonged toxic exposure to high levels can lead to death (5). Chronic mid-level exposure can give rise to a variety of problems both psychologically and neurologically. Other tell-tale signs may include; Chronic fatigue syndrome, Headaches/migraines, muscle, and joint pain, poor memory and cognitive function, Depression, Compromised immune function, Digestive disorders, Sleep problems, Mood irregularities, hearing or vision, autoimmune conditions, Oestrogen-dominant disorders such as uterine fibroids, endometrial polyps, Thyroid/pituitary dysfunction, Infertility, and Hypersensitivity reactions (16).



Cadmium is classed as a group 1 carcinogenic (2,4). It occurs naturally in ores together with zinc, lead and copper. Cadmium is used as a stabilizer for PVC products and other plastics, colour pigments, phosphate fertilizers, sewage sludge, smoking, metal plating and recently rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries (1). However its use has slowly be ‘faded out’ since the 1990s due to unfavourable health implications. However, cadmium containing products are rarely recycled but they are frequently dumped with household garbage which then contaminates the environment (3). One of the biggest human exposures to cadmium is cigarette smoking (3). A 1998 review of the literature found that people that smoke has 4-5 times higher concentrated blood cadmium level (2). Cadmium may also be present in a variety of food such as seafood, organ meats, and grains, the level of cadmium present is variable due to the amount contamination that particular foodstuff has been in contact with (3).
What are those unfavorable health implications? There is a lot of evidence to show renal damage and failure due to cadmium exposure, as well as skeletal and respiratory damage (2,3,4). There is also evidence of animal studies showing increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Further research agrees that cadmium is associated with prostate cancer and kidney cancer (3).



During the last century, 50% of lead emissions originate from petrol (3) SCARY! The fumes from petrol contribute to airborne lead, which is then deposited into water and soil and therefore eventually consumed by humans. Occupational exposure occurs in mines and smelters as well as welding of lead-painted metal (3). Other sources of lead exposure include jewelry making, soldering, ceramics, lead-acid batteries & paints, electronics, and electronic waste, lead used in piping and plumbing soldering, volcanic activity, cigarette smoking (3,8) and make up (containing kohl, kajal, al-kahal, surma, tiro, tozali, or kwalli) (7).
Health effects of lead are serious! In 2004, 143,000 global deaths were attributed to lead poisoning (8). Lead is a cumulative toxin and affects multiple systems. Acute symptoms are headache, irritability, Gout, gastrointestinal disturbances (anorexia, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain), hepatic and renal damage, hypertension and neurological effects (malaise, drowsiness, encephalopathy) that may lead to convulsions and death (9). In children, exposure may be identified by behavioral disturbances, learning & concentration difficulties. Chronic exposure may lead to hematological effects, such as anemia, or neurological disturbances, including headache, irritability, lethargy, convulsions, muscle weakness, ataxia, tremors, and paralysis. Then furthermore damaging consequences if exposure is not stopped, such as; peripheral nerve damage, reduced nerve conduction, reduced dermal sensitivity, kidney damage, serious neurological damage, cardiovascular & hematologic complications, and severe gastrointestinal issues. Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney, and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time (8).



Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust and thus widely distributed. Most commonly sourced from soil, mineral, and clay. Today we use aluminum to make beverage cans, pots and pans, airplanes, siding and roofing, foil, fireworks, explosives, in water treatments, alumina in abrasives and furnace linings, antacids, astringents, buffered aspirin, food additives, antiperspirants (deodorants), cosmetics, food (flour, baking powder, colouring agents and anti-caking agents), and vaccines (12). Obviously a widely used substance, but is that good for us? No!
Workers who breathe in aluminum dust are at a high risk of lung/ respiratory damage (similar to asthma-like symptoms) and nervous system disorders (12). Other occupational hazards of lead may cause contact & irritant dermatitis and increase risk of lung & bladder cancer (12). In the general population, there is plenty of evidence showing the detrimental effects of aluminum plaque build-up in the brain causing cognitive impairment dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Serious brain and bone disease caused by high levels of aluminum in the body have been seen in children and adults with kidney disease due to impaired elimination via kidneys (11).

Further clinical presentations of aluminum toxicity may include

  • Anemia (12)
  • Bone diseases (12)
  • Recurrent eczema (12)
  • Increased risk of breast cancer due to aluminum in deodorants (12)
  • Macrophagic myofasciitis (which is a type of lesion) from vaccines containing aluminum (14)
  • Erythema, subcutaneous nodules and contact dermatitis from vaccines containing aluminum (14)
  • Adverse long term neurological issues after vaccine containing aluminum (13)
  • Multiple fractures – particularly of ribs and pelvis – due to aluminum inhibiting nutrient absorption needed to make healthy bones (15)
  • Proximal muscle weakness (15)
  • Mutism (15)
  • Seizures (15)
  • Stunted childhood growth (15)

Testing; If you are concerned about your exposure to heavy metals, there are ways to test your heavy metal levels; Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA); Urine testing; Serum blood levels.

There are many ways in which you can decrease your exposure to heavy metals, these include;
  • BE AWARE of contaminated sites or substances that you may be using and remove yourself from the situation or the substance from your life!
  • Eating organic foods, small fish and being aware of the history of the food (where it came from and how it can be processed).
  • Avoid farmed fish!
  • Herbs for heavy metal detoxification – coriander, garlic, spirulina, barley grass
  • Eat a balanced diet – a variety of fresh non-processed foods.
  • Consider your cook wear – try ceramic!
  • Avoiding chemical sprays, cleaners, and oils.
  • Drink filtered water.
  • Increase your vitamin and mineral intake to minimise the effects of exposure.
  • Stop using make up containing kohl, kajal, al-kahal, surma, tiro, tozali, or kwalli!
  • Avoid contact with lead-acid based or electronics or electronic waste.
  • Use safe plastics
  • Know what ingredients are in your medications.
  • Regular bowel movements.
  • Exercise for lymphatic clearance and circulation.

If you do have heavy metal toxicity, detoxification is advised under the strict guidance of a qualified practitioner. Or if you would like to test your heavy metal status, I can support you in testing. The tips above are a suggestion to protect yourself preventatively against your exposure to heavy metals.

If you have any nagging questions or would like to comment on this post please do not hesitate to contact me here!
Or alternatively, if you need support with heavy mental detoxification – please make an appointment!

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Järup L et al 1998, Health effects of cadium exposure – a review of the literature and a risk estimate, Scand J Work Environ Health, 24(1):1-51
Järup L 2003, Hazards of heavy metal contamination, British medical bulletin, 68(1):167-182
WHO 1992, Cadmium, <http://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/cadmium/en/>
Lindh, U et al 2002 Removal of dental amalgam and other metal alloys supported by antioxidant therapy alleviates symptoms and improves quality of life in patients with amalgam-associated ill health. Neuro endocrinol Lett, 23:459-482
Weiss B, Clarkson TW, Simon W.2002 Silent latency periods in methylmercury poisoning and in neurodegenerative disease. Environ Health Perspect, 110 (Suppl 5) pp851–4
FDA 2016 ‘Kohl, Kajal, Al-Kahal, Surma, Tiro, Tozali, or Kwalli: By Any Name, Beware of Lead Poisoning’ <https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Products/ucm137250.htm>
WHO 2010, ‘Exposure to lead: a major public health concerns’ <http://www.who.int/ipcs/features/lead..pdf?ua=1>
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WHO 2016, ‘Arsenic’, < http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs372/en/>
ATSDR 2008, ‘Public health statement about aluminium’ <https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=1076&tid=34>
Krewski D et al 2007, ‘Human health risk assessment for aliminuim, aluminium oxide and aluminium hydroxide’ J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev, 10 (suppl 1), pp1-269
Shaw CA, Li Y, Tomljenovic L. Administration of aluminium to neonatal mice in vaccine-relevant amounts is associated with adverse long term neurological outcomes. J Inorg Biochem. 2013 Nov. 128:237-44.
WHO 1999, ‘Macrophagic myofasciitis and aluminium-containing vaccines’ <http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/committee/reports/october_1999/en/>
Bernardo J F et al 2015, ‘Aluminium toxicity clinical presentation’ <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/165315-clinical#b5>
Brown S n.d, ‘Ease heavy-metal toxicity naturally’ <https://www.wellbeing.com.au/body/health/Ease-heavy-metal-toxicity-naturally.html>